Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First global picture of greenhouse gases emerges from pole-to-pole research flights

09.09.2011
3-year series of scientific missions from Arctic to Antarctic produces new views of atmospheric chemistry

A three-year series of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic has successfully produced an unprecedented portrait of greenhouse gases and particles in the atmosphere.


This is a photo of NSF's Gulfstream V aircraft, or HIAPER, in Anchorage, Alaska, during a HIPPO mission. Credit: UCAR, Carlye Calvin

The far-reaching field project, known as HIPPO, ends this week, and has enabled researchers to generate the first detailed mapping of the global distribution of gases and particles that affect Earth's climate.

HIPPO, which stands for HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations, has brought together scientists from organizations across the nation, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Harvard University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Miami and Princeton University.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR's sponsor, and NOAA are funding the project.

The HIPPO campaign relies on the capabilities of a specially equipped Gulfstream V aircraft, owned by NSF and operated by NCAR in Boulder, Colo.

The research jet, known as the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), has a range of about 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers).

It is outfitted with a suite of specially designed instruments to sample a broad range of atmospheric constituents.

"This has been the most ambitious project to date for the NSF Gulfstream V aircraft, or HIAPER," says Anne-Marie Schmoltner, NSF program director for atmospheric chemistry, which funded HIPPO. "It has produced an unprecedented wealth of data on greenhouse gases and black carbon particles throughout the atmosphere."

The series of HIPPO flights marks an important milestone as scientists work toward targeting both the sources of greenhouse gases and the natural processes that draw the gases back out of the atmosphere.

"With HIPPO, we now have views of whole slices of the atmosphere," says Steven Wofsy, HIPPO principal investigator and atmospheric scientist at Harvard University. "We've been quite surprised by the abundance of certain atmospheric components and the locations where they are most common."

The flights have helped scientists compile extraordinary detail about the atmosphere.

The research team has studied air samples at different latitudes during various seasons from altitudes of 500 feet (150 meters) above Earth's surface up to as high as 45,000 feet (13,750 meters), into the lower stratosphere.

"Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask," says Britton Stephens, a scientist with NCAR and one of the project's principal investigators. "Finally, HIPPO is giving us a clear view of what's really out there."

The first of the five HIPPO missions began in January, 2009. Two subsequent missions were launched in 2010, and two in 2011.

The final mission comes to an end on September 9, 2011, as the aircraft returns from the Arctic to Anchorage and then to its home base at NCAR's Research Aviation Facility near Boulder, Colo.

Each of the missions took the research team from Colorado to Alaska and the Arctic Circle, then south over the Pacific to New Zealand and near Antarctica.

The flights took place at different times of year, resulting in a range of seasonal snapshots of concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The research was designed to help answer such questions as why atmospheric levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have tripled since the Industrial Age and are on the rise again after leveling off in the 1990s.

Scientists also studied how logging and regrowth in northern boreal forests and tropical rain forests are affecting levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Such research will provide a baseline against which to evaluate the success of efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions and to enhance natural carbon dioxide uptake and storage.

The team measured a total of more than 80 gases and particles in the atmosphere.

One of HIPPO's most significant accomplishments has been quantifying the seasonal amounts of carbon dioxide taken up and released by land plants and the oceans.

These measurements will help scientists produce more accurate estimates of the annual cycle of carbon dioxide in and out of the atmosphere, and how the increasing amount of this gas is influenced by both the natural world and society.

The team also found that black carbon particles--emitted by diesel engines, industrial processes and fires--are more widely distributed in the atmosphere than previously thought.

Such particles can affect climate in various ways, such as directly absorbing solar radiation, influencing the formation of clouds or enhancing melt rates when they are deposited on ice or snow.

"What we didn't anticipate were the very high levels of black carbon we observed in plumes of air sweeping over the central Pacific toward the U.S. West Coast," says NOAA scientist Ryan Spackman, a member of the HIPPO research team.

"Levels were comparable with those measured in megacities such as Houston or Los Angeles. This suggests that Western Pacific sources of black carbon are significant, and that atmospheric transport of the material is efficient."

Researchers were also surprised to find larger-than-expected concentrations of nitrous oxide high in the tropical atmosphere.

The finding has significant environmental implications because the gas both traps heat and contributes to the thinning of the ozone layer.

Nitrous oxide levels have been increasing for decades in part because of the intensive use of nitrogen fertilizer for agriculture.

The abundance of the gas high in the tropical atmosphere may be a sign that storms carry it aloft from sources in Southeast Asia.

The task of understanding how carbon cycles through the Earth system, known as "balancing the carbon budget," is gaining urgency as policy-makers discuss strategies to limit greenhouse gases.

Some countries or regions could be rewarded with carbon credits for taking steps such as preserving forests believed to absorb carbon dioxide.

"Carbon markets and emission offset projects are moving ahead, but we still have imperfect knowledge of where human-emitted carbon dioxide is ending up," Stephens says.

Before HIPPO, scientists primarily used ground stations to determine the distribution of sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide and "sinks" that reabsorb some of the gas back into the land and oceans.

But ground stations can be separated by thousands of miles, which hinders the ability to measure carbon dioxide in specific locations.

To estimate how the gas is distributed vertically, scientists rely on computer models, which will now be improved with HIPPO data.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

nachricht Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>